When collectors submit their error coins to a grading service for
authentication, they face several possible outcomes. The coin can be
accepted as authentic, rejected as fake, rejected as suspect or
rejected with a “no decision” opinion.
But even when they’re given a seal of approval, some errors will
still have attached to them an intrinsic sliver of doubt.
Authentication is problematic for any error in which the strike is
tiny, the design exceptionally weak, or the details exceedingly incomplete.
One category that invites suspicion is the profoundly weak strike,
which is often mischaracterized as a “die adjustment strike,” “test
piece,” “die trial” or “setup piece.” As discussed in the May 23
“Collectors’ Clearinghouse” column, such errors are more likely the
result of spontaneous equipment malfunction. Apart from considerations
of proximate or ultimate cause, a profoundly weak strike lacks many of
the features that permit secure authentication.
Illustrating this point is an undated dime that was struck about
70 percent off-center by a malfunctioning press. The strike was
phenomenally weak, possibly from a drastic drop in ram pressure but
more likely from an increase in minimum die clearance. Design elements
on the obverse include Franklin Roosevelt’s lower lip, chin and
throat. Design elements on the reverse include the torch flame and
parts of several olive leaves. The planchet is odd in having a
perfectly smooth surface devoid of tumbling marks. The strike was so
weak that it is almost completely restricted to the proto-rim — the
highest point on the planchet. A more complete description can be
found online in the Errorscope Online Supplement (Vol. 1, No. 2),
located at http://hermes.csd.net/~coneca/content/ESOS070804Vol1No2.pdf.
While I have no reason to think that this is a fake, I cannot rule
out a strike by counterfeit dies. So little of the design is present
that it is impossible to locate any features diagnostic of a genuine
die. Likewise, any toolmarks, bumps or other blemishes indicative of a
fake die would not have been transferred.
Copper-nickel clad dime planchets are abundant and cheap. Any
counterfeiter with a modicum of intelligence could create an
undetectable fake by applying a pair of home-made dies to a genuine
planchet, providing that only a light impact or a low pressure squeeze
I have seen a number of highly suspicious weak strikes over the
years, both in and out of slabs. Some were struck multiple times. One
coin that stands out in my memory is an undated Indian Head 5-cent
coin that appeared in an auction held at the January 2007 Florida
United Numismatists convention. Carrying an S-Mint mark, it was housed
in a slab. Design details were scant and uniformly faint. The printed
description mentions “no fewer than half a dozen impressions.” The
coin was pulled before the auction began.
Edge strikes are another category that can occasionally resist
authentication. As the name indicates, an edge strike is a planchet or
coin struck on-edge.
I’ve never been quite comfortable with the double-struck 1981
Lincoln cent depicted here. There’s no doubt that the first strike (an
uncentered broadstrike) is genuine. But there’s no way to tell for
sure if the subsequent edge strike is legitimate.
At the 3:00 position we find the partial motto pluribus unum. The
opposite pole shows slight irregularities that presumably represent
the folds of Lincoln’s coat. The letters are rather mushy and
flattened, especially unum. While this could reflect a late die state,
it is more likely the result of slippage against the die face or
post-strike damage. All edge strikes slip against the die face;
otherwise they would end up as foldover strikes.
The surface of the letters and the surrounding field seem slightly
convex in cross-sectional profile. This deviation from a sharp, flat
topography could again be the result of mild post-strike damage or
slippage against the die face.
The mushy letters also introduce the possibility that a pair of
fake dies were used to generate the edge strike. Crudely fashioned
dies sometimes generate unclear details.
The last ambiguous example is a planchet with a tiny off-center,
uniface strike. No die-struck design elements are present on the
(presumed) obverse face. The planchet’s diameter (21 millimeters) is
comparable to that of a 5-cent coin planchet as is its weight (4.95
grams). However, the highly reflective surface and a high, narrow
proto-rim are quite peculiar. I can’t rule out the possibility that
this is a token or medal planchet with a strike delivered by privately
Coin World’s Collectors’ Clearinghouse department does
not accept coins or other items for examination without prior
permission from News Editor William T. Gibbs. Materials sent to
Clearinghouse without prior permission will be returned unexamined.
Please address all Clearinghouse inquiries to email@example.com or to
800-673-8311, Ext. 172.